Raptors Consider Game Boycott Following Police Shooting of Jacob Blake

It's one of many options being considering as the franchise continues to speak out against anti-Black racism and police brutality, Raptors player Fred VanVleet told reporters on Tuesday.
Anya Zoledziowski
Toronto, CA
August 26, 2020, 3:05pm
Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors are vocal proponents of the Black Lives Matter movement. Photo by Kim Klement (Pool Photo via AP)

The Toronto Raptors are considering boycotting their next playoff game in response to Jacob Blake’s violent shooting by police in Wisconsin. 

In a news conference following the Raptors Tuesday practice, players Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet said the team is trying to figure out how to respond. Not playing on Thursday against the Boston Celtics in the second-round Eastern conference playoff opener is one option of many.

"We knew coming here or not coming here was not going to stop anything, but I think ultimately playing or not playing puts pressure on somebody," VanVleet said inside the NBA's Florida bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort.

“Would it be nice if, in a perfect world, we all say we're not playing, and the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks—that's going to trickle down—if he steps up to the plate and puts pressure on the district attorney's office, and state's attorney, and governors, and politicians there to make real change and get some justice,” VanVleet said. 

Late Sunday, Blake, a 29-year-old Black father living in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was shot multiple times in the back by police while his three young sons sat in the family SUV. The incident left Blake paralyzed from the waist down. The news, which included video footage of the shooting, has reinvigorated Black Lives Matter protests condemning police brutality and anti-Black racism that first gained traction after police were caught on camera killing George Floyd.

According to Powell, more needs to be done to spur people into action. He said BLM protests, taking a knee during anthems, and wearing anti-racism slogans is “not getting the job done,” CBC News reported.

"I feel like Black Lives Matter is just another thing in conversation now," Powell said. "Something needs to happen where you're forcing those people who can effect and make the change to do something."

VanVleet said everyone needs to get involved. "Here we are today with another unfortunate incident, so my thoughts today are with that man and his family and trying to wrap my mind around what they're going through," VanVleet said.

"Are we going to hold everybody accountable, or are we just going to put the spotlight on Black people or Black athletes or entertainers and say 'What are you doing? What are you contributing to your community? What are you putting on the line?” he said.

Details about the Raptors’ response to Blake haven’t yet been released, so it’s unclear if Thursday’s playoff game will go ahead. The Celtics had a similar meeting, ESPN reported.

“Obviously, our thoughts go to Jacob Blake and his family," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "And, obviously, that video was horrifying. That video was awful. And to think of three kids being in that car is like ... that just makes you shaken, right? It's ridiculous. ... We've talked about it as a team and just how we feel. We haven't talked about it enough, but obviously everybody is shook.”

The Raptors have been vocal opponents of anti-Black racism, arriving at the NBA’s bubble last month in a bus with the Black Lives Matter slogan emblazoned on its sides. Like other NBA teams, the Raptors jerseys sport social justice phrases like “education reform,” “respect us,” and “say their names.”

Draymond Green, a power forward for the Golden State Warriors, initially responded to the Raptors’ gestures by saying Black Lives Matter doesn’t affect the team because it’s Canadian—despite a notable Black Lives Matter presence in Toronto.

Raptors President Masai Ujiri responded by underscoring his intention to use his franchise’s presence in Florida “as a statement” to support Black and minority issues, Narcity reported. Last week, video footage surfaced of Ujiri getting pushed by San Francisco Bay Area sheriff’s deputy Alan Strickland while trying to get courtside after his team won its first NBA championship. The footage is part of a countersuit filed by Ujiri’s legal team against Strickland, who had tried to sue Ujiri for injuries during the widely disputed altercation. 

The footage shows Strickland pushing Ujiri twice, telling him to “back the fuck up,” before the NBA executive pushes back.

In a public statement released by the Raptors, Ujiri said the video “demonstrated how horribly I was treated by a law enforcement officer last year.” 

“There’s only one indisputable reason why that is the case—because I am Black,” Ujiri said. “What saddens me most about this ordeal is that the only reason why I am getting the justice I deserve in this moment is because of my success.”

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